In 1926, The Elsinore Theatre opened in downtown Salem as a silent film house and vaudeville venue, and for yearly 100 years has provided a variety of artistic opportunities to the Salem community. Did you visit The Elsinore to see a blockbuster movie, a silent film, a touring dance company or maybe a comedian?
Now a nonprofit venue benefitting from a $3.4 million upgrade that restored the Tudor Gothic-style building to its original glory, promoters are working hard to provide first-run entertainment that attracts both local and wider audiences.
Here are a few facts, provided by executive director Tom Fohn, marketing maven Carlee Wright, and development director Sally Litchfield Puhek, about where The Elsinore has been and where it’s going. You’ll want to check it out.
Where did The Elsinore get its start? It was the vision of George B. Guthrie, a prominent attorney from Portland who built it in the era of grand atmospheric movie palaces, where the real world is left outside as the patron enters a completely different world. It drew its name from Shakespeare’s “Hamlet.”
Special features? Above the theatre entrance is a stained-glass scene of Hamlet, with accompanying side windows of Portia and Lady Macbeth. The upper balcony features spectacular windows of Elsinore Castle at sunset.
First move played at The Elsinore? On May 28, 1926, it opened with two sold-out showings of “The Volga Boatman,” directed by Cecil B. DeMille.
Early famous visitors: Edgar Bergen (and Charlie McCarthy), Otis Skinner, The John Phillip Sousa Marine Band, and Clark Gable.
Live music: A mighty Wurlitzer organ accompanied the first silent films. The organ was a medium-sized instrument with 900 pipes installed in four rooms above the proscenium. It was replaced in 1986, and is now played by Rick Parks during tours and silent film showings.
What is today’s vision? Promoters say its purpose is to offer arts and cultural performances that improve individual development, enhance the quality of life and contribute to the economy of Oregon’s capital city. The fundamental service of the vintage Elsinore is to present live performances on stage.
The iconic stage: This is the heart of the Elsinore, and our mission is to grace it with the finest acts and cultural events possible for the enrichment of this community.
What makes it fun to work at The Elsinore? Carlee: You’re teasing, right? What’s not to love about working at the Elsinore? We do fun. We see people relaxed, being entertained and connecting with others in the community.
Do you still show films? Carlee: We’ve shown movies here for decades. It’s one way people identify with us. This season we’ve added a 2 p.m. show for people who don’t drive after dark. We have a wonderful partnership with Roth’s Fresh Markets which provides buy one, get one free coupons. Where else can two people enjoy a classic film for $6?
What’s been your most popular shows recently? Carlee: Pink Martini, Kris Kristofferson and the musical “Disenchanted.”
What about your upcoming season? tom: I’m excited about it because we’re really getting shows Salem is not supposed to get: Jeff Foxworthy and “We Will Rock You: The Queen Musical” are perfect examples. These are big shows and when the only place people can see them is in Salem, it’s good for more than just the theater.
What about original productions? tom: We’re producing musicals now and recently were awarded a nationally-touring show that we’ll produce here, and then take on the road. Imagine sitting in a theater in Tacoma watching a musical produced by The Elsinore Theatre in Salem. The outreach is important, but we’re also developing skills for many local thespians by providing a touring opportunity to increase their skills and resume.
Speaking of helping up-and-coming talent: sally: The Elsinore has a new project with North Salem and McKay high schools called SPARK – Salem Performing Arts Reward Konnection. We use private donations and grant funds directed to SPARK to provide free tickets for school staff to award to underserved students making strides toward graduation.
Can I volunteer? sally: Yes, the events at The Elsinore could not happen without the dedication of our amazing team of volunteers who work as ushers, ticket takers, concessionaires and box office attendants. In 2017-18, 155 volunteers donated 8,830 hours. If you have an interest in volunteering, contact the Administrative Office for an application.
I want to attend a show: Always start with the website, ElsinoreTheatre.com, where you can view a schedule of events and purchase tickets. If you go directly to a reseller’s site, ticket prices will be much higher. Tickets can be purchased from the box office or administrative office, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. Or call 503-375-3574 to order with a credit card.
Location: The Elsinore Theatre is located at 170 High St. SE, in downtown Salem. There is free parking on all streets in the area.